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Trinkets that stick it to Obama start to sell

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 11, 2009

In the political paraphernalia department, "Yes, we can" is becoming "No, he can't."

Anti-Obama memorabilia -- from T-shirts to bumper stickers to buttons -- is increasingly emerging in the marketplace as the president's economic and health care policies polarize supporters and detractors.

While "Mama for Obama" was a popular slogan during the 2008 election cycle, that design has been retooled with angry and fickle disenchantment: "To the Mama for Obama -- thanks for the tax hike." The "Audacity of Hope," the title of Mr. Obama's popular book, has been replaced by the "Audacity of Hype."

"It really started peaking about a month ago," said Amy Maniatis, vice president of marketing at the online seller Cafepress.com.

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"You see it as a direct response to some of the promising messages that happened a year ago. Whereas we had the campaign of Obama centered around hope, and it was a very optimistic message, now they're asking: 'How's that hopey-changey thing going?' "

The Cafepress.com store, a cultural barometer of sorts for political and social expression, offers about 3 million Obama products, she said, but now is up to about 1 million that are "anti-Obama-oriented," reflecting a "significant shift in the last couple of months than what was the trend a year ago."

Pro-Obama gear is still selling well, she said, "but now we're seeing a much larger swing toward the critical designs. It will be lighthearted as commentary on his gaffes as in 'Acted Stupidly,' " a play on his remarks about the Cambridge, Mass., police officer who arrested Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., "or with folks reacting to headlines or what is going on with the economy."

The political change in memorabilia mirrors the public-opinion divide on Mr. Obama as he moves to reform health care and attempts to revive the economy.

A poll of likely voters by Rasmussen Reports, released Thursday, found that 32 percent "strongly approve" of the way the president is doing his job, while 38 percent "strongly disapprove." Overall, 49 percent at least ?somewhat approve? of his performance, and 51 percent at least somewhat disapprove.

Rasmussen Reports said 71 percent think Mr. Obama's policies are causing the federal deficit to rise, while 54 percent said they think middle-class tax cuts are more important than additional spending on health care. Just one-third of likely voters ? 33 percent ? said America is heading in the right direction.

A Gallup Poll taken from July 31 to Aug. 3 found that the president's approval rating was up to 56 percent from 52 percent three days earlier. The Gallup numbers, based on "three-day rolling averages," had Mr. Obama's approval up to 61 percent from July 17 to 19, reaching a low of 52 percent from July 27 to 29. Those numbers are down from his high point of a 69 percent average after he took office in January.

Gallup said the current rating is "about average" when compared with other presidents' numbers measured since 1945 at this point in their terms.

Still, as the summer heats up with growing dissatisfaction, reflected in town-hall meetings and "tea party" gatherings nationwide, the political divide is providing an opportunity for online sellers.

On the Web site obamaseriously.com, black armbands and T-shirts proclaim "Obama - Killing Me Softly" and "Obama - Bankruptcy of America." At conservativebuys.com, a white tank top bears the word "Delusional" above the wavy red-and-white-flag-striped logo used by the Obama campaign.

EBay pop-culture analyst Karen Bard said anti-Obama merchandise makes up just 10 percent of that Web seller's Obama-related inventory.

"People are still buying Obama products," she said, noting that the site has had more than 85,000 listings in the past 90 days.

"By and large, the sentiment is pretty positive. It seems that his popularity isn't dying down at all," she said. "When there is a moment in popular culture, inevitably, listings do tend to rise on eBay. It is such a barometer of popular culture, and politics fits into pop culture so beautifully."

Among some conservatives, however, a rising tide of anger at Mr. Obama's policies has leached into street art popping up in cities across the country.

One graffiti artist took a whack at Mr. Obama's rock-star image, using a well-known campaign photo. In it, Mr. Obama's familiar visage is adorned with garish white face paint and red lipstick, a la the sinister Joker character portrayed by Heath Ledger in the Batman movie "The Dark Knight." Under the portrait on the posters is the word "socialism."

Craig Ridgel, who runs the online and eBay store secularstupidest.com from his home in Atlanta, says that when he first started his business selling anti-Obama bumper stickers, he Googled that product description in January and "there wasn't much that popped up."

"Since then, we've seen this explosion of designs," he said. "We've been seeing an increase in sales every month. This past week was our largest week."

Displaying a bumper sticker or wearing a button or T-shirt is a way for conservatives and other Obama detractors to express their emotions, he said, calling it "an inexpensive way to get the word out."

He has also received his share of hate mail from Obama supporters.

"The Web is fueling a lot of this," he said, noting that his company will produce a special logo in advance of the Sept. 12 tea parties. "You can't just go to Wal-Mart and buy an anti-Obama T-shirt.

"I think a lot of people are angry, and they have had this spark ignited in them, and they just can't hold it in anymore. I think a lot of conservatives didn't like President Bush that much. They were disappointed in him, yet it was kind of hard for them to criticize him openly because he was supposed to be our man," Mr. Ridgel said.

"Now, with Obama, they have someone that they are just letting it all out, and it was like the dam just broke. The majority of the conservatives that I know, I think every time Obama does something like the stimulus package or increasing the debt - it seems like their emotions are getting higher. It's almost like he's pushing our buttons."